Feedlot Diets, Abscessed Livers & Antibiotics--The High Cost of Factory Farming

Feedlot Diets, Abscessed Livers & Antibiotics--
The High Cost of Factory Farming

May 10, 2001
Cattle Feedlot Studied
Filed at 6:28 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Feeding cattle diets of starchy, high-calorie grain
produces more steak but gives the animals disorders that must be treated
with antibiotics and other drugs, a researcher says.

Cattle being readied for the slaughterhouse are typically put on diets that
are 90 to 100 percent grain. This makes them gain weight quickly and produce
meat with the tasty marbling of fat so beloved by steak eaters.

The problem, said James B. Russell, a Department of Agriculture researcher
at Cornell University, is that nature designed cattle to feed on grass and
other high fiber foods. An all grain diet makes them sick, he said in a
study appearing Friday in the journal Science.

``When you feed cattle 90 or 100 percent grain, it creates an acidosis in
the ruman (stomach) and the ruman wall becomes ulcerated,'' said Russell.
Bacteria, such as Fusobacterium necrophorum, migrate through the ulcers and
end up in the liver where they cause abscesses.

``At least 13 percent of the animals in feedlots have liver abscesses, some
as big as your thumb, which means the livers have to be discarded as unfit
for human consumption,'' he said.

To limit this problem, feedlot operators give the animals antibiotics to
suppress F. necorphorum and other bacteria.

``If they didn't give antibiotics, about 75 percent of the animals' livers
would be abscessed,'' said Russell.

Usually, the antibiotics are removed before the cattle diet before slaughter
so the meat is not affected. However, widespread use of the drugs can
cause the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, he said.

High grain diets cause other problems, such as bloating and liver failure,
and Russell estimated that about three out of every 1,000 cattle in a feedlot
die of grain-related disorders.

High levels of grain in the cattle diet, said Russell, cause a slow and
sluggish movement of food through the animal. This allows the starchy grain
to build up high levels of acid in the ruman and the acid causes the ulcers.

The researcher said that about half of the bicarbonate of soda produced in
the U.S. is fed to cattle to partially neutralize the acid from high grain
diets. The industry also use lime placed in the animal feed. Russell said
that cattle are healthiest when they are fed diets that include grass, hay
or other high fiber matter. This prompts the animal's gut to work properly,
limits the production of acid and allows the animals to gain weight without
the need for antibiotics against liver abscesses.

But grass and hay are low in nutrition, compared to grain, and it takes
months longer for cattle to reach market weight, said Russell.
The researcher emphasized that he was not advocating that cattle not be fed
grain, but, instead, is looking for ways to fatten cattle economically
without causing the health problems.

``If we switched all the cattle from grain to hay, the supply of hay in the
United States would not be enough to make up for the deficit,'' he said.

Instead, Russell said the problem could be controlled by allowing the
cattle to spend more time grazing and eating hay before they are put on the
fast-weight-gain diet of grain. Another technique, he said, would be for the
cattle to be fed about 60 percent grain and about 40 percent hay or other
high fiber foods. This would slow the fattening process, however.

Gary Weber of the National Cattleman's Beef Association acknowledged
that ``it is a challenge'' to raise cattle economically since it requires a
balance between quickly fattening the animals for slaughter and keeping them
properly fed and healthy at the same time.

He said Russell is known for his research efforts and ``we fully support any
research that will help us produce beef more efficiently.''

Home | News | Organics | GE Food | Health | Environment | Food Safety | Fair Trade | Peace | Farm Issues | Politics
Español | Campaigns | Buying Guide | Press | Search | Donate | About Us | Contact Us

Organic Consumers Association - 6771 South Silver Hill Drive, Finland MN 55603
E-mail: Staff · Activist or Media Inquiries: 218-226-4164 · Fax: 218-353-7652
Please support our work. Send a tax-deductible donation to the OCA

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc. It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.